11 Research-Backed Tips For Dealing With Insomnia

Medically reviewed by April Justice, LICSW
Updated October 9, 2023by BetterHelp Editorial Team

When trouble sleeping persists over time and begins to negatively impact your waking life, you may have insomnia. It’s a chronic condition that can affect a person’s daily functioning, relationships, work, mental health, physical health, and overall well-being. It can have a variety of different causes, which is why you may benefit from trying a variety of strategies to address it. Read on to learn more information about insomnia and how to handle it according to recent research.

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What Is Insomnia?

Insomnia is classified as a sleep disorder, and its primary manifestation is difficulty falling and/or staying asleep. The various types of insomnia are usually categorized based on how long they last, such as:

  • Transient insomnia, when sleep difficulties last for less than one month at a time

  • Short-term insomnia, when sleep difficulties last between one and six months

  • Chronic insomnia, when sleep difficulties persist for more than six months

There’s also primary insomnia, which exists without the presence of other health conditions or diseases, and comorbid insomnia, which occurs simultaneously with other conditions or diseases. One example of comorbid insomnia is that which occurs alongside depression. Researchers estimate that approximately 40% of people with insomnia also have concurrent mental health conditions, like depression.

Symptoms and side effects of insomnia may include the following:

  • Finding it hard to fall asleep

  • Finding it hard to stay asleep

  • Waking up earlier than desired or in the middle of the night

  • Worries about sleep

  • Poor sleep quality

  • Fatigue or sleepiness during the day

  • Attention or memory issues

  • Decreased work, school, or social performance

  • Irritability, disturbed mood, hyperactivity, or aggressiveness

  • Decreased motivation

  • Increased mistakes or accidents

What Causes Insomnia?

Insomnia can have a wide variety of different causes, which is part of why it can take time and some experimentation to find the treatment or strategy that works to address it. Possible situations that could affect sleep include: 

  • Psychological conditions or mental health disorders such as depression, anxiety, stress, bipolar disorder, and over-stimulation

  • Other sleep wake disorders like obstructive sleep apnea, periodic limb movement disorder, and restless leg syndrome

  • Medical illnesses including acid reflux, heartburn, chronic obstructive lung disease, asthma, congestive heart failure, hot flashes, arthritis, chronic pain, benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH), and overactive thyroid, which can all cause sleep disorders

  • Neurological disorders like Parkinson's disease, strokes, and dementia

  • Stimulants and substances such as caffeine, nicotine, and alcohol

  • Medications like decongestants, bronchodilators, antidepressants, steroids, beta-blockers, diuretics, central nervous system stimulants, and previous use of sleep medications 

  • Sleep habits and environmental factors, including daytime naps, irregular sleeping and waking times, watching TV in bed, an overstimulating sleep environment, sleeping in a warm room, and not winding down before bed.

Depending on your severity level, you may want to consult your primary care doctor for treatment options. They may begin by having you keep a sleep diary to track when you’re sleeping and for how long. This could help inform what treatment options are the most appropriate for your situation including over the counter medications, prescription sleeping pills, a sleep clinic, or a natural remedy from our list below.

This guide features science-backed tips, from sleep schedules to online therapy, that may help you overcome your insomnia. Discover the natural treatment for insomnia listed below.

11 Tips For How To Deal With Insomnia Naturally

The best way to overcome insomnia depends on the cause(s), symptoms, and severity. It’s typically recommended that you talk to your doctor or another qualified healthcare provider if you’re experiencing a medical condition like this, as they may recommend sleep medicine or similar options. However, there are also some strategies you can consider that may help you get better sleep.

  1. Create A Consistent Sleep Schedule

Having a consistent sleep schedule means going to sleep and waking up at roughly the same time each morning and night and avoiding naps during the day. A daily routine can help your body be more naturally ready for sleeping and waking at the desired times.

One study points to a correlation between an irregular sleep schedule and poor sleep quality, supporting the idea that adjusting your sleep routine to create consistency with bedtimes and wake-up times may be beneficial.
  1. Avoid Or Limit Caffeine

While many people rely on a cup of coffee in the morning to help them get going after a sleepless night, this practice may actually be counterproductive. Research suggests that regular caffeine intake—even when it's more than six hours away from sleep—can increase the incidence of sleep disturbances like insomnia. High caffeine consumption can also lead to physical side effects that could impact getting a good night's sleep, such as stress, nausea, temporarily increased heart rate and blood pressure, and muscle tremors.

  1. Avoid Or Limit Alcohol

Research also points to a connection between alcohol use disorders and insomnia. Some people with insomnia use alcohol to cope with their lack of sleep, but studies show that this approach is generally counterintuitive and can lead to a worsening of insomnia symptoms in the long run. Others may develop insomnia because of regular alcohol consumption. 

Long-term alcohol use may also reduce the overall quality of sleep. These issues can continue for months after discontinuation of alcohol use, though they may improve over time with continued abstinence from alcohol. While alcohol can potentially disrupt all aspects of sleep, it may interfere with the REM stage of your sleep cycle in particular—which plays an essential role in memory, emotional processing, and healthy brain function overall.

  1. Exercise Regularly And At The Right Time

Getting regular, consistent exercise has been linked to a variety of health benefits, and potentially decreasing an individual’s symptoms of insomnia is one. A study published in the National Library of Medicine suggests that four weeks of regular exercise can serve as a sleep aid, helping people experiencing insomnia fall asleep faster and stay asleep longer. However, it’s recommended that you take care to avoid exercising an hour before bed, as this can make it more difficult to fall asleep.

Getty/Halfpoint Images
  1. Avoid Working Or Watching TV In Bed

 Another helpful sleep hygiene strategy to improving sleep ease and quality can be to create a clear association in your brain around what your bed is used for. Try to avoid working, watching TV, or doing other activities in your bedroom, day or night. Instead, aim to use your bed only for sleeping and sex so that your brain doesn’t associate it with the mental stimulation of daytime activities.

  1. Try Not To Eat Too Close To Bedtime

Eating too close to bedtime may cause problems falling asleep because food is energy, and your body will be actively working to digest what you ate rather than winding down for sleep. It can be especially beneficial to avoid eating high-fat foods, as they can decrease the body’s sensitivity to a natural sleep hormone called orexin. In addition, high-protein foods should be consumed earlier in the day as well, since they take longer to break down. Avoiding all other foods a few hours before bedtime if possible can also be helpful in treating insomnia.

  1. Create A Restful Sleeping Environment

The right sleep environment can help you fall and stay asleep more easily too. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), you can improve your sleep hygiene and create more restful sleeping conditions with the following tips:

  • Reduce light: A few ways to do this include using room-darkening curtains, turning off devices that emit light or cover up the light source, and wearing an eye mask. 

  • Reduce noise: You might place your phone on "do not disturb mode", wear earplugs, or consider a white noise machine or app to block out noises you can’t control. 

  • Keep temperatures cool: The Sleep Foundation recommends a bedroom temperature of 65 degrees Fahrenheit to promote a deep and restful sleep.
  1. Write Out Your Worries

A common reason many people have trouble falling asleep is that they’re experiencing racing or anxious thoughts, which they can’t switch off long enough for their brain to enter a more restful state. One way to combat this issue is to journal before bed. Getting worries or tasks for tomorrow down on paper and out of your mind can help you relax for good sleep more easily. Research supports this strategy, suggesting that journaling before bed can increase sleep duration and improve sleep quality—particularly if it’s a to-do list related to tomorrow rather than a list of what you got done today.

  1. Try Meditation

Research suggests that 10–30 minutes of mindfulness meditation daily may help improve sleep quality and reduce insomnia symptoms. To get started, you might try a meditation app or free meditation videos online. However, try to minimize how much you're looking at a screen to set them up. It may help to set your phone to nighttime mode or install a blue-light blocker app because blue light may suppress the secretion of melatonin, a vital sleep hormone. Alternatively, you could try focusing on deep breathing for 10-30 minutes each day without the use of your phone. Deep breathing practices or progressive muscle relaxation techniques are commonly used to treat insomnia and may help you fall asleep faster.

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  1. Strengthen Your Social Connections

It may be one of the more surprising tips on this list, but research suggests that we may be better able to sleep if we have strong social support in our waking life. One study theorizes that this may be because of the original evolutionary pull to have others around while sleeping to safeguard us from predators. It reports that “supportive ties were positively related to sleep quality” in the study they conducted, meaning that prioritizing a healthy social circle may help with insomnia and promote good sleep habits.

  1. Meet With A Therapist

Finally, engaging in talk therapy modalities may also help reduce chronic insomnia and other long-term sleep problems. Many sleep experts recommend cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) or other mental health treatments, suggesting it may be especially beneficial if you also experience other mental health symptoms or conditions like stress, anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder, or intrusive thoughts. In most cases, you can choose between in-person or online therapy sessions for this type of treatment, depending on your preference. Those who have a busy schedule or have trouble locating a provider in their area may find virtual therapy to be more convenient.

With a virtual therapy platform like BetterHelp, you can get matched with a licensed therapist who you can speak with via phone, video call, and/or in-app messaging to address the challenges you may be facing. You can connect to your sessions from the comfort of home or anywhere you have an internet connection. One study suggests that internet-based CBT improved sleep quality for adults with insomnia, making it a viable option for those experiencing this type of sleep issue.


Insomnia is characterized by persistent difficulties falling or staying asleep. If you’re experiencing insomnia, sleep deprivation, or a related condition, it’s typically recommended that you meet with a healthcare professional. You may also find some of the tips listed above useful in mitigating the effects of insomnia over time.

Learn the impacts of sleep deprivation

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